Twenty Five

The guy in the booth kept his eyes on his screens. I got past the booth and to a corridor junction where I felt safer for having a place to physically duck out of sight.

“Ok, Franz, you come on.”

There was no way to see his face but his posture looked scared. We’d gotten past the lab guy but this was different. If these guys twigged to us they could bring the whole Kasei security apparatus crashing down on us. It looked like Franz was watching the guy just like I had been.

I heard a door open and close behind me and I looked back. There was the other security guard – coming out of a bathroom. I crowded against the other side of the corridor to be out of his way and then looked back at Franz. I was really starting to get accustomed to the suits and wasn’t at all worried about being noticed – until I saw Franz. He was right in the path that this other guard would take, coming back to the booth.

“Franz! Get to the other side of the corridor!” I hissed.

No response, he just crawled slowly along, watching the guard in the booth.

“Franz! There’s another guard coming. You’ve got to get out of his path!”

His head shifted and I thought he was looking at me.

“I, what?” I could hear the fear in his voice. Everything on his sheet indicated that he could handle himself – but this wasn’t a straight-up run. This was a serious sneak. We felt exposed even though we weren’t and the pressure was getting to Franz. In the back of my mind I figured that he was probably feeling guilty that we even had to come this way.

The other guard was coming up quick. Franz was just past the door – the most probable path for that guard to take on his way back to the booth. And now he was frozen in fear.

I was too far away to be effective and if I moved this guy would probably see something.

“Kazumi, get him across! Against the other wall!” my voice was hard.

Before I was even done speaking, she was moving. A gray blur of movement, she sprinted low, dove, and grabbed Franz. Her dive turned into a roll as she twisted her hips and sent both of them thudding against the wall on the other side of the corridor. I held my breath and willed Franz to stay quiet – I wasn’t worried about Kazumi.

The guard in the booth looked up at the sound. The other guard rounded the corner and saw him standing.

“What’s up, Jim?” number two asked the first.

“I dunno. I just thought I heard something.”

“Like what?”

“I’m not sure, a thud or a fall or something.”

They both looked up and down the corridor, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Then the first shrugged, “Oh, well, maybe it was just in my head.”

I breathed a quiet sigh of relief as the second guard went into the booth and they both settled down to keep watch.

“Ok, Franz. Crawl quietly towards me.”

He made it the rest of the way without any problems and I didn’t say anything about the incident. During a run is not the time for that kind of thing.

Kazumi joined us and we continued on our way.

We reached the lab door without issue. Franz produced his induction jack again and attempted to override the locks.

After six long minutes, I saw him take the jack off. The door did not open.

“Franz, where we at?”

“I can’t do it. The encryption. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before. It changes too fast. I can’t get a handle on it.” He sounded wrung out. He’d been at it hard, giving his best – and it wasn’t enough. I knew how that felt, but it didn’t get us through the door.

“Try again.”

“But-“

“Try. Again. We have to get through this door.”

I saw his gray form nod and I opened a private comm link to Kazumi while he re-attached the induction jack.

“Kazumi, what do you think?”

“I think that we have big problems.”

“Yeah. I see two options; one is we blow the door. Two is that we try to get a key card from a guard or someone else in the building.”

Kazumi’s voice was level when she replied, “Three is that we walk.”

I grimaced, “That’s a non-starter. Absolute worst case.”

“But, right now we’re in the best possible position for breaking off. As soon as we blow the door or engage a guard our chances for a clean, silent break go way down.”

“Yeah, I know. Let’s give him a few more minutes.”

I closed the private comm link and we continued watching the corridors. Two minutes later I heard a quiet, verbal “Yes!” and looked back to see the lab door click open.

I grinned, “Nice job, Franz,” and we darted into the lab and left the door slightly ajar behind us so that we wouldn’t have to go through the unlock cycle again.

This lab was different from others I’d been in. There were no hardware stations – just a few computers and some boards on the wall with cryptic (pun intended) notes.

“Ok, Franz, grab the data and let’s get out of here.”

Franz started in on each computer in turn and he hit paydirt on the third one. “Found the data, copying now.”

After two more minutes, he jacked out, “Got it, we’re set.”

I smiled. This was good. We had the data, everything was quiet – now we just had to get out. It was all going (mostly) smoothly – which made me wonder when it would go south…

The lab didn’t have any windows so we couldn’t tell if anyone was in the hall. The three of us clustered near the slightly open door and paused there, listening for any sounds of people approaching. Everything was quiet.

I opened the door all the way and we crept back out into the hallway. Since the locks on the other doors were inbound only, we didn’t have to sneak past the guard booth again and I led off on the route out.

###

The door was ahead on the left. I reached and paused, looking back at the grey forms of Kazumi and Franz. It was odd not to be able to see their faces. I hadn’t realized how much I used that visual feedback of a team’s mood before.

They both reached me and Kazumi stopped. Franz didn’t.

“Franz, where are you going?”

Silence met my reply. He just kept moving down the corridor.

“Franz!” I hissed. “What the hell are you doing.”

Still silence.

What the hell was going on? “Kazumi, you stay here – keep an eye on the door.” I took off after Franz.

I caught up with him inside of 20 meters, grabbed his shoulder and slammed him against the wall.

“What the hell are you doing?”

No response. An empty gray face looked back at me.

I drew my tranq gun. “Franz you answer me right now or I’ll tranq you and carry you out.”

When he spoke, I could hear the sneer in his voice. “Carry me out? And how will you get past the doors?”

“What the hell do you mean get past the doors? They’re only locked on one side.”

“Maybe they were before, but they’ve been upgraded. You have to badge both ways. If you tranq me, you’re never getting out of here.” The sneer was more pronounced now.

I started at him, feeling stunned. Locked both ways? That hadn’t been in the data from Price. Shit! What else had he lied to me about? I put that aside and gritted out “What. The. Hell. Are. You. Doing?”

“I’m hitting the secondary objective. Just like Price said.”

“What secondary objective? We were here to get the quantum crypto data and get out.”

“Well, that was your run, and I was there to support you. Now we’re on my run and you need to support me or you’ll never get your data out.”

I growled at him, “This is not the way to execute a run. When we get out we’re going to have another conversation.”

I was barely controlling my rage and it must have leaked out but it didn’t seem to faze Franz, “Yeah, whatever, man.”

“So, what the hell is the secondary objective?”

“I’m gonna steal Kasei’s financial data.” The sense of entitlement in his voice stunned me.

I let go of him and stumbled back, incredulous. Their financial info? That was sacred. It was going to be so well protected that even looking in its general direction was likely to set off alarms.

“You had a hard time getting through some door locks! How the hell are you going to cut the security protocols to get their financial data?”

“The door locks, faw” he waved it away, “Those were nothing. I just wanted us to go past the manned booth. You told Price this would be a good way to get a real-world test of the suits and I wanted to make sure we did. I’m getting a major bonus for this – it’ll pay for my next deck upgrade.”

All of a sudden my rage at Franz melted away. He wasn’t the architect of this situation. That was Price. Franz was in this for the money. Franz thought he was on easy street, that he held all the cards and could call the shots. That scared me. Was he really as good as the thought he was? Had is problems with the locks been faked? Or was he just covering it up now – putting on an air of bravado that was so strong even he believed it.

I opened a private comm channel to Kazumi, “Kazumi, thoughts?”

“I’m gonna slit his belly open and strangle him with his own bloody entrails. Then I’m going to cut his fucking arm off and beat him to death with it. Then I’m going to-“

“Stow it.” My voice was hard. “Focus. Mission.”

I heard her sigh. “For now, go with him. Keep him safe. Get him out. As soon as we don’t need him anymore, cut him loose.”

“I agree.” I closed the channel.

“Ok, Franz” his name was a sneer, “Lead on. We’ll get through this and settle up outside. But hear this. If I even think you’re going to screw us or more or run out on us or anything – I’ll cut your arm off and leave you to bleed out on the floor here.”

“Whatever.” He was already turning away from me.

I reached out for him, then stopped myself. It wouldn’t accomplish anything. I had to stay focused on getting us through and getting us out.

###

I didn’t know where we could access the financial network but Franz seemed to. He jogged forward effortlessly, taking turns without appearing to stop for consideration. I tracked our location on the map kept considering evac routes in the back of my mind.

He went through two locked doors with barely a pause – a fact which seemed to reinforce his claim to an act earlier.

“Ok, just ahead on the right is an office. In there I can access the network and get what we need.”

I checked the time. 3:35 AM. I really wanted to be out by 4 when the shift changed. “Ok, hurry.”

“Chill, man. It’s all under control.”

Everything about Franz’s demeanor had changed. This wasn’t the man who we’d talked to before. There’s no way I would have let this egomaniacal asshole on my team.

He quickly beat the lock on the door and rolled into the office, “You guys stay out there to keep watch.”

I ground my teeth and didn’t reply.

But we stayed in the corridor.

Two minutes later he was back out, “See, that wasn’t so hard. Now we can get out.” His tone was extremely self-satisfied.

“Ok, follow me.” I ground out. While Franz was in the office, I’d finalized our best route out. It would take us through three locked doors but avoided any manned guard booths.

I checked the time and saw that it was 3:45 – this was cutting it seriously close. I led off at a fast jog.

We didn’t have any problems with the first two doors – Franz opened them almost as fast as the ones on the way to the financials. I slid up to the last door and watched Franz reaching to connect his induction jack when the door opened from the outside, hit Franz, and knocked him backwards.

I acted without thinking. My hand flashed into the suit pocket where the tranq gun was holstered and I put two darts into the neck of the guard that had opened the door. Before I saw his combat armor.

The darts glanced off the ceramic plate and I saw his eyes go wide behind the visor. For an instant I considered what he must be seeing and it made me smile. He’d felt the door hit something and now he was seeing part of a gun (the part not in my fist) floating in the air. Then I saw Kazumi’s grey form fly past me and heard a soft crash as she shattered his visor and then a soft crunch as her fist shattered his face.

“Kazumi, go.” I reached back to help Franz to his feet (there was no way I was leaving him behind when we were so close) and we sprinted after her.

The time had come to trade stealth for speed. We’d still be hard to see but that guard would likely be missed soon.

We covered the distance to the arch in 30 seconds. Then the alarms went off.

“Kazumi, you first.” She didn’t hesitate, just hooked onto the motor assembly and started up. Franz had the data but there was no way I was going to send him over first. He’d probably deflate the arch and leave us.

“Franz, now you.” He clipped in and followed Kazumi up.

I took a last look around the compound, clipped in, and grinned tightly. We’d all but made it. Both Kazumi and Franz were over the wall and I was on my way up.

I was five meters up when I heard the whine of the gatling gun spinning up. It drew my vision and filled me with horror when I saw it pan towards me and stitched the wall above me with a stream of death. Some guard must be driving it on manual – if it were on automatic I’d be dead. I looked up – two meters to go. I willed the drive to go faster.

Then I heard a small explosion and I was falling. Back into the compound.

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